Monday, August 30, 2010

The Last Exorcism (2010)

When horror movies find something successful, they'll run it into the ground. In the 1970s, the chosen theme was religious horror. Movies like The Exorcist, The Omen, and Rosemary's Baby were all the rage. Though it died off with the arrival of the '80s slasher boom, religious horror has recently popped back up with The Exorcism of Emily Rose, the remake of The Omen, and two separate prequels to The Exorcist.

It eventually would cross paths with a more recent horror trend in The Last Exorcism, a combination of old-school religious horror and the modern "found footage" filmmaking technique. Although I was a bit hesitant to see it at first when I noticed Eli Roth's name attached as a producer, I'm glad I gave The Last Exorcism a shot, because it's a pretty cool little flick.

Meet Reverend Cotton Marcus (Patrick Fabian), a popular evangelist from Baton Rouge who has reached a spiritual crossroads. Despite his family's reputation as successful exorcists, Cotton himself doesn't actually believe in the existence of demons. Instead, he views what is thought of as "demonic possession" as really being a psychological problem. Instead of actually removing any sort of malevolent spirits, Cotton just performs some cheap parlor tricks to swindle trusting believers out of their money and convince them they're at peace. He's bringing a sliver of comfort to people and nobody's getting hurt, so he never really had a problem with it. But after he hears of an autistic boy who was smothered to death during an exorcism, Cotton's conscience gets the best of him and he decides to get out of the game.

As a way of confessing how he is defrauding people, Cotton allows a camera crew to film a documentary about his final exorcism. This particular job will take him to the rural Louisiana farm of Louis Sweetzer (Louis Herthum), a devout fundamentalist who believes his teenage daughter Nell (Ashley Bell) is possessed by a demon. While Cotton's phony exorcism goes according to routine, things quickly take a disturbing turn. Not only do the Sweetzers call that farm home, but so does a terrifying evil that Cotton may not be any match for.

The Last Exorcism is one heck of a movie. There's no denying that. It's not so much scary as it is haunting, which I find works a lot better. A typical scary movie probably won't stick with me for very long, but a movie like The Last Exorcism... I'm still getting chills thinking about scenes from it. Granted, there are a few flaws that I'll get into shortly, but The Last Exorcism is an effective, downright frightening horror movie that I can't recommend enough.

Director Daniel Stamm does an amazing job helming the movie, creating an unsettling atmosphere with the simplest of setups. It takes nearly an hour for the really frightening stuff to start happening, but Stamm manages to establish an uneasy feeling of dread even as Cotton arrives at the Sweetzer farm. I'm sure it's hard to make one of these "found footage" movies when you don't have a ton of money or the backing of a major Hollywood studio like Cloverfield or Quarantine, but Stamm does it effortlessly.

There are a few flaws with the direction, however. The primary flaw is that Stamm keeps cutting to reaction shots and odd angles that couldn't possibly work if the crew only had one camera. It's especially obvious during the second exorcism attempt in the barn. Why would anybody want to film anything other than the girl whose neck and spine are twisting in impossible directions? If most "found footage" movies are guilty of having characters film crazy things when they should be running away, then Stamm is guilty of having his characters filming stuff that's less interesting.

And I know some movie critics will speculate on why a "found footage" movie will have music, but I thought it worked for The Last Exorcism. I typically enjoy Nathan Barr's music to begin with, and the score he's composed for the movie is just as creepy as the visuals it accompanies. If the movie absolutely needs music, then Barr's was the best they could have possibly hoped for.

And then there's the screenplay, written by Huck Botko and Andrew Gurland. None of the reviews I've read online have really mentioned Botko and Gurland, which is a shame because I thought they did a pretty good job. Granted, their script isn't perfect, but it gets the job done. The only really profound flaw I found is that I felt the ending was way too rushed. It's like they painted themselves into a corner and had to condense a 15-minute ending into three. It makes for a more intense ending, sure, but at a certain point, you'll want the movie to slow down and take the ending one step at a time.

And really, the ending is the worst part of the movie. The last two or three minutes come completely out of nowhere, with only one throwaway line at the beginning of the movie even remotely hinting towards it. That line is so minor that you'll almost forget that it was even said at all, and with absolutely no other clues or references to what happens in the ending, it feels like they just dropped a big ol' ball of stupid into the audience's lap. To tell you the honest truth, the ending would have been okay had the movie been maybe ten or fifteen minutes longer to tell you just what the hell was going on and make up for the total lack of sense that it makes.

The best part of the movie, however, is its cast. Some of the performances are better than others, but there's none that I can say are actually bad. I don't know how many times I've gotten to say that, but there really isn't a bad performance in the movie at all. The best one comes from Patrick Fabian, who is likable, engaging, and charming in his role. He's sincere in the part, and even very funny, as evidenced in the scene where Cotton works a recipe for banana bread into a sermon just to see if anyone in his congregation notices. And even though he's playing a lying huckster who's made a career out of ripping people off, Fabian plays him in such a way that you can't help but care about him.

The other two performances that really stand out are Louis Herthum and Ashley Bell. Herthum plays his role with conviction, and really does a lot to add to the movie. Until the last ten or fifteen minutes or so, you'll probably start thinking that Herthum's character may be a little darker than he acts, which really works in the movie's favor. Thanks to Herthum, you'd be totally justified in initially thinking that maybe there is no demon, only a religious whackjob that abuses his kids. He's great in the role, so I have to give credit where credit is due.

And Ashley Bell, if I do say so myself, is excellent. Outside of the scenes where she violently lashes out against people, her performance is mostly understated, something that I liked. In a movie like The Exorcism of Emily Rose, the possessed person is a sobbing, emotional wreck when he/she wasn't having fits of demon-induced mania. Bell, on the other hand, plays the role with confusion, sadness, and shock. And really, she's just so darn adorable in those scenes that you want to see her character find the peace she's looking for. Bell is convincing enough, and I was thoroughly impressed by her work.

It's been over a decade since The Blair Witch Project introduced the "found footage" genre to the public consciousness. There hasn't been a movie like it that I thought achieved the same level of creepiness until The Last Exorcism came along. I mean, I loved the [∙REC] movies and Paranormal Activity, but The Last Exorcism has been the only one that's been able to match the movie that all other "found footage" movies are inevitably compared to. But even without comparing it to The Blair Witch Project, the movie is totally worth seeing. Not everybody will like it, but that doesn't change the fact that The Last Exorcism is great. So on my usual scale, the movie gets four stars and a proud seal of approval. Movies like this don't come along every day, but it's good enough that I wish they did.

Final Rating: ****

Friday, August 27, 2010

[·REC] 2 (2009)

I've never been one to keep my affection for horror movies a secret. But the problem is that there aren't a lot of American horror movies being released lately that really catch my eye. I mean, I really didn't have any interest in movies like The Unborn or Orphan, or in cheesy-looking remakes like The Stepfather, Sorority Row, and Prom Night. And even when I do get interested in something, it usually ends up being disappointing.

Because of that, I'll occasionally look to international horror. These hunts have actually been fairly successful, especially when they lead me to movies like [·REC]. This little gem from Spain absolutely scared the pants off me when I first saw it a few years ago, and I'll actually go as far as to call it one of the best horror movies I've seen in the new millennium.

An entertaining take on both zombies and the "found footage" style, [·REC] was brought to the United States and remade as Quarantine in 2008. Something must have been lost in translation, though, because Quarantine was just a complete mess. However, a proper follow-up to the original movie came out last year in the form of a sequel written and directed by [·REC]'s creators. And as a fan of the original, I can say that I felt [·REC] 2 is a worthy successor.

The movie begins back to the quarantined apartment building in Barcelona, mere moments after the original's conclusion, as a SWAT team escorts Dr. Owen (Jonathan Mellor), an official from Spain's Ministry of Health, into the building to investigate the infection. They're almost immediately attacked by the zombies the virus has created, and one of the SWAT team members is infected. When Dr. Owen manages to repel him with a rosary and religious commands, the team realizes there's more to it than he's letting on.

The truth is he's actually a priest sent by the Vatican to find the virus's "patient zero." A fellow priest had been researching what he believed to be the biological cause for demonic possession, which he'd found in a young girl. He kidnapped her and took her to the building's penthouse to conduct his research, but the virus eventually mutated and became incredibly contagious and fast-acting. Now faced with the risk of this virus spreading, Dr. Owen must obtain a blood sample from the girl in order to develop an antidote. But with the building crawling with bloodthirsty zombies, accomplishing that will be easier said than done.

I absolutely loved [·REC]. I thought it was scary as hell and showed how the "found footage" technique can be used effectively. While Quarantine was a real letdown, I still patiently awaited [·REC] 2. And unlike Quarantine, the sequel was everything I'd hoped for in a follow-up to [·REC]. So let's dive in and see just what made it so good.

Returning to the scene of the crime are Jaume Balagueró and Paco Plaza, who once again knock it out of the park. They bring back the "found footage" technique from the first [·REC], but have a little fun with it thanks to the use of multiple cameras. Each member of the SWAT team wears a small camera on his helmet, three teenagers sneak into the building with a camera of their own, and a thought-dead character from the first movie returns with that movie's camera. It gets a bit ridiculous after a while, but on the whole, I thought it was cool.

They put the handheld camera style to good use again, letting scares sneak up on us and playing with our expectations by starting to repeat scares from the original, only to take them in a different direction. They also go to great lengths to give the fans what they want while trying something new. And by something new, I mean more action. Basically, [·REC] 2 is to [·REC] what James Cameron's Aliens was to Ridley Scott's Alien; a lot of the same with a lot more exciting action. And thanks to the first-person P.O.V. aspect, [·REC] 2 is nearly a better Doom movie than the actual Doom movie.

And as for the screenplay... who needs a screenplay? Written by Balagueró, Plaza, and Manu Díez, the script is a little bit on the shallow side. The characters are one-dimensional (I don't even remember their names, outside of Owen), and the plot is threadbare. I mean, half of my synopsis is just an explanation of what the virus is. It could have been only one paragraph if I'd wanted it to be. But [·REC] 2 is not about characters or story. It's about mayhem and being scary. So any shortcomings the script may have are forgivable.

Last on my list are the actors, who are mostly disposable. When the characters are anonymous cannon fodder, you tend not to expect anything from the actors playing them. But believe it or not, there are a handful of good performances. The best comes from Jonathan Mellor, who plays his role with intensity and conviction. I also liked Óscar Zafra and Ariel Casas as members of the SWAT team. The only really bad performances, though, come from the teenagers who sneak into the building. Playing them are Andrea Ros, Pau Poch, and Ãlex Batllou, and every second they're on the screen, they're nothing short of annoying. They're frustratingly bad every second they're on the screen, especially Ros, whose character seems to do nothing but whine and complain. The characters are accompanied by a firefighter played by Ferran Terraza, and Terraza's good performance is ultimately dragged down by Ros, Poch, and Batllou.

[·REC] 2 isn't as scary as the first one. I have to admit that. But it's still pretty awesome. You don't see too many sequels that are on the level of their predecessors, but [·REC] 2 is one of them. It's 85 minutes of nonstop action, scares, and entertainment. It's one hell of a fun ride, one that I'll gladly give four stars. Balagueró and Plaza are supposedly working on two more [·REC] sequels, so let's hope those are just as good.

Final Rating: ****

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Citizen Toxie: The Toxic Avenger IV (2001)

I've mentioned my affection for USA Up All Night and MonsterVision more than once, both here and my personal blog. And when Up All Night was a regular staple of my weekends, I would always look forward to when they would air the Toxic Avenger trilogy. I'll be the first to tell you that the movies aren't great or anything, but to quote someone else, a movie doesn't have to be good to be awesome.

And that's exactly what I thought of the Toxic Avenger movies. I'd always secretly hoped Troma would make a fourth entry in the franchise, but so many years passed that I thought it would remain a trilogy forever. That changed, however, when Troma released Citicen Toxie: The Toxic Avenger IV in 2001. And although Up All Night is not around to show the movie, I still had to see it anyway. So just how was it?

Our story begins as the psychotic Diaper Mafia invades the Tromaville School for the Very Special and holds its students hostage. The Toxic Avenger (Dave Mattey, with the voice of Clyde Lewis) and his morbidly obese sidekick Lardass (Joe Fleishaker) arrive to save the day, but the Diaper Mafia manages to detonate a bomb they'd set as a failsafe.

The explosion somehow opens a rift that causes Toxie to switch places with his evil doppelganger from an alternate dimension, the Noxious Offender (Mattey and Lewis in a dual role). While Noxie begins violently slaughtering the citizens of Tromaville, Toxie is trapped in the slums of Amortville. Will Toxie ever be able to return to his own dimension and save the day? Let's hope so, because if he doesn't, all Tromaville has left is Sgt. Kabukiman (Paul Kyrmse). And who wants to be saved by Sgt. Kabukiman?

Troma has kept something of a low profile over the last decade or so, something I've assumed was due to the financial hardships the studio had to endure some time back. Their only really notable works in the new millennium have been Citizen Toxie and Poultrygeist: Night of the Chicken Dead. I have yet to see Poultrygeist, but Citizen Toxie really seems a lot different from the Troma movies I remember enjoying during my youth. It's a lot more mean-spirited, a lot more focused on being offensive and just plain gross and wrong.

Lloyd Kaufman helms this particular Toxic Avenger movie without Michael Herz, and his work is sound. It's no great shakes and sometimes feels as low-rent as the production value, but Kaufman keeps things moving without letting the movie become boring.

It's unfortunate, however, that he's working with a real stinker of a script. Written by Kaufman, Trent Haaga, Patrick Cassidy, and Gabriel Friedman, it pales in comparison to even the worst parts of the other two sequels. A lot of the jokes aren't funny in the slightest, and so much of it is gross or offensive for the sake of being gross or offensive. Yeah, they used gross moments for comedy in the other three Toxic Avenger movies, but they weren't so overt about it. It's like Kaufman, Haaga, Cassidy, and Friedman decided that they'd eschew all of the franchise's goofy charm and just be disgusting.

At least the cast tries to make up for it. Dave Mattey and Clyde Lewis are awesome as both Toxie and Noxie, and Paul Kyrmse is hilarious as Sgt. Kabukiman. I also liked Joe Fleishaker, despite his lack of screen time. There are even a few cameos that are fun, specifically Ron Jeremy as Tromaville's mayor and Corey Feldman as a wacky gynecologist.

The cast isn't all gold, though. Michael Budinger and Lisa Terezakis are annoying as a pair of students from the Tromaville School for the Very Special who are transported to Amortville with Toxie, and Heidi Sjursen is utterly terrible. Her scenes are so badly acted that I wanted to crawl into the movie and yell at her until she stopped sucking. I know Troma movies are not known for good acting, but Sjursen is particularly awful.

I called the second and third Toxic Avenger movies disappointing, but Citizen Toxie is even worse. I can forgive the inadequacies of the other movies because at least they were charming and fun. Citizen Toxie, on the other hand, is quite simply a bad movie. I don't want to say that, but it's the truth. And that's a real shame, because it could have been something cool. Alas, it's not. I keep hearing that there is talk of more Toxie movies down the road, specifically a remake and/or another sequel titled The Toxic Avenger Part V: The Toxic Twins. Let's hope that if either of those happen, Toxie will be able to redeem himself.

Final Rating:

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The Toxic Avenger Part III: The Last Temptation of Toxie (1989)

When Troma founders Lloyd Kaufman and Michael Herz set out to make a sequel to The Toxic Avenger, they may have gone a wee bit overboard. The production's final result was over four hours of usable footage. Doubting that anyone would want to sit through a movie that long, Kaufman and Herz chopped the movie in half. The first half became The Toxic Avenger Part II, while the second half was turned into The Toxic Avenger Part III: The Last Temptation of Toxie. I've already reviewed the first two, so why not move onto number three?

Having completely eliminated all crime from Tromaville, the Toxic Avenger (Ron Fazio and John Altamura) is left with nothing to do. The welfare checks his blind girlfriend Claire (Phoebe Legere) receives just aren't cutting it, and Toxie can't get a job because nobody wants to hire a hideously deformed mutant. Unable to make ends meet, and faced with the opportunity for Claire to undergo a risky — and quite expensive — surgical procedure that would restore her sight, Toxie is forced to go to work for the villainous Apocalypse, Inc.

Using Toxie as their spokesman, Apocalypse, Inc. begins a very hostile takeover of Tromaville. The town has practically become one big chemical dumping ground, while Toxie becomes blind to his employer's sins. Why he seems to have forgotten just how evil Apocalypse, Inc. is after having confronted them at the end of Part II, I have no clue. But maybe that's the side effect of the job the company's chairman (Rick Collins) has on the side. See, the truth is he's the devil. You read that right. It's Toxie versus Satan in what may be the Toxic Avenger's fiercest battle yet.

At the end of my review of The Toxic Avenger Part II, I said that I hoped Part III would hold up better than Part II had. It had been nearly fifteen years since I last saw either of them, and Part II wasn't nearly as good as I'd remembered it being. Sadly, Part III isn't as good either. It's a better movie than Part II, but it's still a disappointment.

As Part III was shot simultaneously with Part II, Lloyd Kaufman and Michael Herz are sitting in the directors' chairs here too. Their work is still good, especially since the movie isn't as all over the place as Part II. It gets Toxie back to Tromaville to fight evil in his natural element, just like the awesome first movie.

Oddly enough, I got the feeling that Part III was the exact opposite of Part II. While Part II's climactic chase scene felt tacked on and really rushed at that, the fight between Toxie and the devil goes on forever. It must eat up at least the last half hour of the movie. It reaches a point where I thought it would never end.

The writing by Kaufman and Guy Partington Terry does show a lot of improvement, considering that the movie doesn't have to spend so much time with Toxie screwing around in Japan. The only problem is that Toxie fell into a plot hole and became a tremendous idiot. How would he not remember that Apocalypse, Inc. is evil? How would he not remember them trying to get rid of him and take over Tromaville? Is it so wrong to expect a little consistency, even out of a Troma movie?

The acting quality remains the same as Part II, with the cast ranging from bad to forgettable. Phoebe Legere still totally sucks, Ron Fazio continued to be pretty good as the voice of Toxie, and Rick Collins was a whole lot of fun once again. Collins's overacting is so entertaining that I almost hope the real devil is like that. That'd make the afterlife so much funnier.

While I've said that the movie is an improvement over Part II, it's still not as good as it could have been. That's the thing about nostalgic memories; they'll sometimes play tricks on you. Unfortunately, I honestly cannot give it anything higher than two and a half stars. I do wonder, though, how these two sequels would have turned out had they stayed one movie. I guess we'll never know.

Final Rating: **½

Monday, August 23, 2010

The Toxic Avenger Part II (1989)

When Troma Entertainment created The Toxic Avenger in 1984, they stumbled upon a formula that would make them the kings of goofy, no-budget sleaze. With their combination of cheesy effects, bad acting, and general outrageousness, Troma makes the kind of movies that only a fan of Z-grade schlock could love.

And while Troma has never really reached mainstream success, they've had their share of cult hits. Their most famous, however, has remained The Toxic Avenger. It even got a few sequels, too. It was the broadcasting of the second and third entries into the franchise on USA Up All Night during the '90s that introduced me to — and made me a fan of — Troma. So let's dig in and see if they hold up as well as I felt they did when I first found them.

A few years have passed since Melvin Junko (Ron Fazio and John Altamura) became the mutated superhero known as "The Toxic Avenger" and cleaned up his hometown of Tromaville. Without any evil to defeat, he has to pass the time elsewhere. Thus, he's taken on a job working with his girlfriend Claire (Phoebe Legere) at the Tromaville Center for the Blind. But little does Toxie know that he will soon have an opportunity to resume his crimefighting career.

When Toxie's psychiatrist convinces him to search for his long-lost father in Tokyo, the evil chemical company Apocalypse, Inc. uses his absence to conquer Tromaville. And though Toxie is horrified to learn his father is not the man he had hoped for, he'll be even more horrified when he learns what has happened to his hometown.

When I look back on when I first started watching those late-night monster movie shows that I loved so much, I remember thinking that the Toxic Avenger sequels were awesome. But when I watched them again recently, for the first time in over a decade, I didn't think they were as hot as I'd remembered them being.

Specifically, the problem with the second one is that it feels hastily put together. The ending comes off as being rushed and shortened, probably a consequence of the movie technically being the first half of what was supposed to be a longer movie. I also got the impression that, thanks to Toxie's frequent expository narration, there were a lot of scenes that were either cut out or simply not shot. The movie's roughly an hour and a half long, but feels like it's only an hour. It's as if the movie just stops after a while.

The whole thing starts to fall apart once Toxie meets the Japanese drug smuggler he thinks is his father. The movie was having trouble as it was, but once their big fight scene is over, the movie doesn't know what to do anymore. There's this stupid scene where Toxie learns the art of sumo wrestling, which doesn't pay off until the very end of Part III, then he goes back to Tromaville and gets into a big overblown car chase, then it just ends. It's lame and just kinda sad, really.

Once again at the helm are Toxie's creators, Lloyd Kaufman and Michael Herz. I've basically just spent the last two paragraphs talking about all the flaws in the movie, but there are a handful of positives in Kaufman and Herz's direction. I thought they shot the movie very well, with the footage in Japan looking particularly good. They could have spent a little time in the editing room, however. A lot of scenes go on for far too long, and a lot of extended jokes just aren't funny to begin with. Those could have really stood to be either trimmed down or excised all together.

Part of the problem may be to blame on the script, written by Kaufman and Gay Partington Terry. Like I said, some of the jokes aren't as funny as the movie seems to think they are. And I didn't think the movie really needed to spend so much damn time in Japan. The whole thing probably could have been worked into one movie instead of two had Toxie's Asian adventures consumed so much of Part II. It's just so frustrating to see the movie fall on its face like it does, but it's more frustrating knowing that the potential for a decent enough sequel was right there and ended up being wasted.

The cast doesn't help anything either. I know Troma movies aren't supposed to have acting that's particularly good, but holy crap, does the cast suck. Whoever dubbed the Japanese actors was bad enough, but the worst offender is Phoebe Legere. If I were to compile a list of the worst actresses I've ever seen, Legere would be near the top. She's so awful and so annoying that if I never see her in a movie outside of the Toxic Avenger sequels, I'd be okay with that.

The cast wasn't a total loss, though. Ron Fazio is fun as the Toxic Avenger (though John Altamura does play the character in some scenes), and Rick Collins is so over-the-top as the chairman of Apocalypse, Inc. that you can hear him overacting even in the scenes in Japan. I mean, wow. Collins doesn't just chew the scenery, he swallows it whole. He practically turns overacting into a work of art.

Sadly, The Toxic Avenger Part II didn't hold up like I thought it would. Truth be told, I'm actually kinda disappointed. It just wasn't as entertaining as I remembered it being. Yeah, it has its moments, but the movie wears out its welcome after a while. So on the usual scale, The Toxic Avenger Part II gets two and a half stars. Hopefully Part III will hold up better than Part II did.

Final Rating: **½

Sunday, August 22, 2010

The Toxic Avenger (1984)

If you're a movie fan looking to broaden your horizons and sample some B-grade schlock, you'll find none greater than the movies produced and distributed by Troma Entertainment. Founded in 1974 by Michael Herz and Lloyd Kaufman, Troma got its start distributing raunchy sex comedies before making a transition to cheesy monster movies and horror flicks. I was introduced to them primarily through USA Up All Night, which would run practically any low-budget horror and sexploitation movies they could get their hands on.

Troma made a name for itself by creating its own niche market, specializing in cheaply-made movies loaded with violence, sex, bad acting, and an endearing feeling of tongue-in-cheek campiness. And of their rather extensive catalog of productions, perhaps their most famous is The Toxic Avenger. The tale of a 98-pound weakling who transforms a superhero through a series of misfortunes was Troma's first huge hit, the title character even eventually becoming Troma's official mascot. There are four movies in the Toxic Avenger saga, but the others will have to wait, as I'm here to review the first one right now.

Meet Melvin Ferd (Mark Torgl), a scrawny loser from Tromaville, New Jersey. Employed as a janitor at the Tromaville Health Spa, poor Melvin is constantly being bullied and tormented by the spa's customers. After a particularly cruel prank that ends with Melvin wearing a tutu and kissing a sheep, Melvin falls out of a second-story window into a misplaced barrel of toxic waste.

The toxic waste leaves Melvin horribly disfigured, mutating him into a superhuman monster (Mitch Cohen, with the voice of Kenneth Kessler) compelled to hunt down and destroy evil wherever it may be. Though his vigilante activities usually end up with somebody dead, Tromaville's citizens proudly support their monstrous hero. That doesn't sit too well with Tromaville's corrupt mayor (Pat Ryan, Jr.), who views the Toxic Avenger as a threat to the local organized crime rings he sits atop. So of course, things will come to a head in the typically over-the-top Troma fashion.

Where does one even begin when critiquing a movie like The Toxic Avenger? I mean, it's one of those movies that's practically critic-proof, simply because Troma's movies are more about the experience than the actual quality. None of their movies are all that good, but as long as you had fun watching them, they got the job done. And speaking personally, I had a lot of fun watching The Toxic Avenger.

Troma founders Lloyd Kaufman (credited as "Samuel Weil") and Michael Herz are at the helm of this little adventure, and considering what they had to work with and what they were aiming for, I can't say I thought they did all that bad. I mean, there's only so much you can do with not a lot of money, right? So yeah, the movie may be cheaply made and a bit on the sleazy side, but Kaufman and Herz keep the movie lively and entertaining. It's shot and edited remarkably well, even in spite of the other shortcomings it may have.

The screenplay is credited to Kaufman and Joe Ritter, and like all Troma movies, you're a fool if you go in expecting Hemmingway. And really, the script is secondary. Everything is just a backdrop for nudity and violence. And maybe some corny jokes, if there's time. In all honesty, the script is fairly light, with cheesy characters and dialogue, and a plot so thin that it's practically transparent. But like I said, that doesn't really matter.

Last on my list is the cast. If you've seen any Troma movie in the past, you know exactly what to expect from the cast of The Toxic Avenger. They're not very good at all, but everyone is so committed to what they're doing that I can't bring myself to dislike them. But oddly enough, as goofy as the acting is, everyone did everything I'd have expected from them. Take, for example, Mark Torgl, who plays the scrawny little dweeb who becomes the Toxic Avenger. The character is an annoying pain in the neck that still remains somewhat endearing, and Torgl does it perfectly. It's always a little odd when that happens, but I'm not going to complain.

There's no right or wrong way to enter The Toxic Avenger, or any Troma movie for that matter, when you see it for the first time. The best you can do is prepare to see something wacky and something weird. It's been roughly fifteen years (give or take a few) since I first saw The Toxic Avenger, and even I haven't fully comprehended its insanity yet. Is it a great film? No. Is it good? By most standards, no. But is it awesome? You bet your ass it is. And because of that, I'll gladly give The Toxic Avenger four stars and a seal of approval. Go check it out if you haven't seen it, because it's one heck of a silly ride.

Final Rating: ****